What is good leadership?
In the face of major social, political, and environmental challenges, there is a prominent public focus on leaders and leadership. Widespread failures have contributed to an erosion of trust in those who hold power but there are also a great many capable and responsible leaders serving organisations and communities out of a commitment to the common good.
What is certain is that perceptions of what leaders need to do and who they need to be are changing. In a connected and complex world, a heroic leadership paradigm of command and control has given way to a collaborative paradigm of leadership that is human-centred and values-based. At the heart of this new leadership are purpose, values, and character.
The idea of leadership presupposes direction – a vision of a better future that is worth working towards. Good leadership is driven by a compelling pro-social purpose that functions as a leader’s north star, guiding through difficulty, and helping them to keep moving forward. Purpose determines the nature of success that leaders strive towards.
A leader’s purpose is only as good as the values that underlie it. In the UK the Nolan Principles of Public Life point to values that are at the heart of good leadership in a free and fair society: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, and honesty. More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought kindness and compassion to the fore.
Character joins who we are and how we lead, enabling leaders to join aspiration to action when it comes to embodying their values and purpose. At the heart of good leadership is character—intellectual, relational and moral qualities such as creativity, curiosity, humility, empathy, compassion, courage and hope.
The art of leading
Taking leadership as a fundamentally relational category and making personal growth and human flourishing central to our discussion, we seek to draw on diverse sources to understand leadership from the perspectives of the humanities as well as the social sciences. Our research and programmes explore the relationship between what makes for effective leadership and questions of who we are and aspire to become, both as individuals, organisations, and society more widely.
Through COVID-19 academics have been thrust into the spotlight as the world has looked to them for leadership, both in collecting and interpreting data concerning the spread of the virus and measures to control it and in creating vaccines to immunize against its effects. The idea of academic leadership stretches back to Plato’s philosopher kings. We explore it in its contemporary form, where leadership is needed for academic knowledge to break out of libraries and labs and make a lasting contribution to society.